TEMPE, Ariz. — Oklahoma dodged a big rally and a falling camera to pull out a gritty win.
Blake Bell ran for his third touchdown in the closing seconds and the No. 19 Sooners survived a late rally, not to mention the crashing camera, to close out a difficult season with a 31-14 victory over Iowa in the Insight Bowl on Friday night.
“It means a lot. These guys persevered,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “(They) came out here tonight and played an excellent game.”
Oklahoma (10-3) didn’t get a particularly great game from quarterback Landry Jones and wasn’t effective on the ground, either. Once considered national-title contenders, the Sooners held off the gritty Hawkeyes, capping a painful year that started with the death of linebacker Austin Box in the offseason.
Jones threw for 161 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and Bell put the game away with a 21-yard touchdown run with 45 seconds left.
“We did exactly what we wanted to: end this with a win,” Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay said.
Iowa (7-6) fell into a 21-0 hole before rallying behind two touchdown passes from James Vandenberg. The Hawkeyes came up just short and dodged a potential disaster when an overhead camera crashed to the field next to receiver Marvin McNutt in the closing minutes. McNutt became tangled in the wire after the camera landed a few yards behind him, but wasn’t hurt. The game was delayed 5 minutes while the camera was dragged off the field.
Vandenberg overcame an early interception to throw for 216 yards, but had two interceptions while the Hawkeyes rushed for just 76 yards to end a school-record three-game bowl winning streak.
Oklahoma’s return trip to the desert wasn’t expected, at least not this early in the bowl season.
Coming off a rout of Connecticut in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners were ranked No. 1 in the preseason, with hopes of a second national title under Stoops.
Those aspirations were gone after a string of injuries — All-America receiver Ryan Broyles’ torn ACL was the big one — and two losses in the final three games, including a 44-10 rout by Bedlam rival Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale.
The frustrating run knocked Oklahoma out of not only the national championship chase, but out of a BCS bowl and into the Insight Bowl.
Instead of making a statement in the desert, the Sooners seemed to stand still in the first half, gaining yards in little bits instead of their usual chunks. Oklahoma had just 89 yards on 27 plays in the half, but led 14-0 thanks to a pair of 4-yard runs by Bell — one set up by an interception and another on the Sooners’ only sustained drive.
The Sooners finally started to click in the second half.
Oklahoma drove inside Iowa’s 10 on its opening drive, though that ended with an acrobatic tip-and-catch interception by Iowa defensive lineman Broderick Binns.
The Sooners kept rolling after that, marching down on their next drive for a 3-yard, play-action touchdown pass from Jones to Trent Ratterree — breaking a streak of eight straight TDs by Bell — to go up 21-0.
The Hawkeyes fought back.
Iowa overcame the suspension of its top running back and a favored opponent to win last year’s Insight Bowl, beating Missouri 27-24. The Hawkeyes did it behind Marcus Coker, who ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns after replacing suspended starter Adam Robinson.
This time it was Coker who had to watch. The sophomore, who ran for 1,384 yards and 15 touchdowns during the regular season, was suspended for violating the university’s student-athlete code of conduct.
Without Coker, Iowa would have to rely on a group of unproven running backs — none had more than 18 carries — and lean even more on Vandenberg.
No one was particularly effective in the first half.
Vanderberg was off-target early and had a pass intercepted by Jamell Fleming at Iowa’s 31-yard line in the first quarter, then exacerbated the miscue by being called for a late-hit penalty. Bell scored his first touchdown two plays later. Iowa had just one sustained drive in the first half, but that petered out; the Hawkeyes lost three yards on a fourth-and-1 from Oklahoma’s 6-yard line.
Their running game ineffective, the Hawkeyes bumbled around most of the next two quarters before finally moving the ball again late in the third quarter. Vandenberg completed seven of his eight passes on a 75-yard drive, the final an across-his-body throw for a 5-yard touchdown to C.J. Fiedorowicz that cut Oklahoma’s lead to 21-7.
Vandenberg then got the Hawkeyes within seven with 7 minutes left, hitting Keenan Davis to convert on a fourth-and-10 to set up a 9-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Canzeri on a screen.
That was it, though.
Oklahoma’s Mike Hunnicutt followed a 35-yard field goal with just over 4 minutes left and Bell added his final scoring run after the falling camera nearly took out McNutt.